Did Betsy Ross really make the first American flag?

The Francis Hopkinson Flag Story

Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, might be the person who really deserves props for designing the American flag.
Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, might be the person who really deserves props for designing the American flag.
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Although he's not as famous in American lore as Betsy Ross, Francis Hopkinson was no inconsequential figure. He was a representative of New Jersey in the Continental Congress and was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Later, he pushed for the ratification of the Constitution in Pennsylvania and wrote several influential articles that helped accomplish this. Hopkinson was a real Renaissance man: In addition to being a politician, he was a lawyer, musician and poet. And on top of all that, he also happened to dabble in artistic design.

Hopkinson contributed to the design of numerous important symbols and seals for the United States in the nation's infancy. Among them are the seal of New Jersey, the Continental Board of Admiralty seal, the seal of the American Philosophical Society, the Treasury seal and even the Great Seal of the United States. And although Hopkinson is an acknowledged designer of these things, it's possible he hasn't gotten credit for the most notable of his designs -- the American flag.

In 1780, the esteemed Hopkinson wrote a letter to the Board of Admiralty in which he claimed he designed the American flag. As compensation, he requested a quarter cask of the public wine. The board forwarded this letter to Congress. A few weeks later, Hopkinson sent a new request to the Board of the Treasury, asking for 2,700 pounds ($3,985) for designing the "Naval flag of the United States" instead; he did not mention the American flag. The Treasury Board rejected Hopkinson's request, saying the flag was a collaborative effort and that Hopkinson was "not the only person" who contributed to the design [source: Leepson].

The flags Hopkinson designed have never been found. However, some researchers believe that the naval flag he designed had seven red stripes and six white ones, while the American flag he designed showed the opposite: seven white strips and six red ones. They base this on the designs that Hopkinson created for the Great Seal of the U.S. and the Continental Board of Admiralty seal [source: Williams].

Though Hopkinson's request for payment was ultimately denied, the response he got at least recognized that he did have a hand in the design. While some other names have been bandied about, Hopkinson's case for designer of the original American flag appears to be the strongest.

Last editorial update on Dec 14, 2018 05:02:32 pm.

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  • "Hopkinson, Francis." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
  • Crews, Ed. "The Truth About Betsy Ross." Colonial Williamsburg Journal. Summer 2008. http://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Summer08/betsy.cfm
  • Leepson, Marc. Nelson DeMille. "Flag: An American Biography." Macmillan, 2006. (April 27, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=qqjzyyZjYTEC
  • The Betsy Ross House. "The Flag." The Betsy Ross House. (April 27, 2009) http://www.betsyrosshouse.org/hist_flag/